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PLAY and DEFENCE for Improving Players


Queens are good cards to hold, often winning tricks on the second round a suit is played. That does not mean you should always keep them in your hand when defending. One sacrificed queen carried an important message on the following deal:

East Deals
None Vul
9 3 2
Q J 8 7 6 5 3
Q 4
J 10 9 2
A Q 6 4
K 10 4
10 5
W   E
K Q 6
K J 10 5
9 2
K 9 7 2
A 8 7 5 4
8 7
A J 8 6 3
West North East South
    1  1 
Dbl 2  2  Pass
Pass 3  3  All pass


The Problem

South led the ace of their partner’s suit and had to decide what to do next. If they exited a passive trump, declarer can draw trumps and come to a comfortable 9 tricks. If South were to try a couple of rounds of clubs, East will make an overtrick. However, if South plays Spade-smallA and a second spade, then the contract should be defeated by three tricks, quite a difference!

toss a coin.png

You can argue that playing a trump when you want a ruff is rather defeatist while leading declarer’s suit at that point is hardly the obvious switch. Therefore, playing two rounds of spades might seem normal.  

However, East could easily have one less spade and one more club. If that was the case, then a club switch would be correct as North could get a club ruff.

So, how does South know for sure what they should do? The answer is for their partner to guide them with their play to trick 1.

The opening lead and the sight of dummy make it quite likely to North that their partner may just have one diamond. What would North like their partner to play? Well, Spade-smallA and a second spade would be great idea.

To get partner to switch to the higher of the other two non-trump suits, North should throw as high a diamond as they can afford. (In doing so, do not give away a trick, but, as here, it is quite safe to throw an honour.)

If North preferred a club switch, they should play their lowest diamond.

If they have no real liking for either black suit, or maybe want a trump, just play a middle diamond.

Say South did not hold the Spade-smallA..or maybe held Spade-smallKQ or just the king, then leading a spade might not be the best option but, since South had called the suit, there seemed no better way for North to try to gain the lead than through a spade ruff.

The Solution

So, North throws the Diamond-smallQ at trick 1.

Look what happens. South plays ace and a second spade (Spade-small8, asking for a diamond, not a club return..high card..higher of other two suits). North ruffs and plays back a high diamond (keep signalling!) for South to ruff.

South plays Spade-small4 (“I think a club would be better next time, partner”) and North ruffs again. Club-smallQ…and the defence has already taken two aces and three ruffs..add on the two clubs and declarer will be three down before they win a trick!

Helping not blaming partner

helping your partner.png

So, North may think that playing a spade at trick 2 is obvious. Yet, what may seem obvious to one partner is not always as clear-cut to the other. So, if you can, make a clear signal. Since North is known to hold long diamonds, playing an attitude or count signal at trick 1 does not make sense. That diamond holding in dummy is equivalent to dummy having a singleton when it is useful to give partner a suit preference signal.

Sacrifice your queen. Three under-tricks are, for the defence,  far better than one overtrick. You are there to help your partner if you can.

Richard Solomon


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